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Oct 02

Herd Mentality on the Social Network Horizon

Summary: Facebook and Google+ are different services, but both will suffer from Streams overloaded by the most popular users. Though their solutions to this issue have subtle differences, the ways in which we fill our Streams in the first place are the same.

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The inestimable MG Siegler (Google+Facebook) raises an interesting point in his recent blog post. He says that his Stream is filled by “content from the same 8 people in my main feed — those with the most followers, and as such, the most interaction.”

He attributes this as a Google+ flaw. I say, it’s also going to be a Facebook flaw. It’s already a Twitter flaw. It’s just the way Social Networks are.

First, this is a very real concern that I share. At some point, as user “Circles” grow to include many of the same names — think of massive, amoebic Venn diagrams — we’re going to end up seeing a lot of the same popular stories shared over…and over…and over again. It’s already happening. Our streams become dominated by the hugely followed, vocal users. The same can be said, however, by widely “Subscribed” users on Facebook.

There’s also the related issue of the “rich getting richer.” What I mean is, the +Robert Scoble’s and +Mike Elgan’s and+Craig Kanalley’s and +Michelle Marie’s of the world generating tens to hundreds of comments in their posts, while lesser-followed people with different takes on the same news get mostly ignored. This is herd mentality in action: people will go where people already are. This happens in Google+ Streams, and it will happen in Facebook Subscription Feeds. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about this. It’s human nature. That said, we’ll still pay attention to our close friends — it doesn’t matter which site we’re on.

What can Google do about Stream bloat? Well, to start, they could condense Shares that already exist in our main stream, and limit them only to the sharing poster’s additional commentary. What can Facebook do? The same thing.

“Friend” management is another way to control Stream bloat. Here, the sites are vastly different. Google’s solution: manually curated Circles. Facebook’s solution: Smart Lists. One involves user work. The other relies upon Mark Zuckerberg’s mysterious algorithms. Sorry, Mr. Siegler, but I don’t see this as a Facebook win. I see this as two different approaches to problems that will afflict both sites.

Lastly, I disagree with Mr. Siegler in another area: how we fill our Streams in the first place. He prefers Facebook’s Friend/Subscriber model. I say it’s absolutely no different from Google’s Circles. The difference is: in Google, you manually Circle your friends and put them in the right bucket; meanwhile, strangers add you to their Circles, and you add them. In Facebook, you send “Friend Requests” to people you want to connect with; strangers Subscribe to you, and you Subscribe to them.

Facebook’s saving grace right now: More Users = More Friends = More Friend posts in your Feed. However, we all know that leads can be whittled away. Ask the Boston Red Sox and Yahoo.

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